Sheffield Steelers forced to play waiting game before finding out Elite League playoff opponent

IN the end, it was all quite simple.

Jonathan Phillips, far right, fires home Sheffield Steelers' fifth goal against Milton Keynes Lighntning on Saturday night. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Sheffield Steelers entered Saturday night's third and final meeting of the season at Sheffield Arena with Milton Keynes Lightning knowing two points combined with favourable results elsewhere would see them into the post-season.

A 5-1 win over a dogged, but limited Lightning team - short on numbers but big in spirit - was enough to ensure the Steelers clinched an Elite League playoff spot thanks, in part, to defending champions Cardiff Devils' 4-0 win over Manchester Storm.

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As well as ensuring Steelers' place in the post-season lottery, that result also means Manchester are now involved in a three-way shoot-out for the eighth and final playoff spot with Coventry Blaze and Dundee Stars, with Fife Flyers and Guildford Flames also qualifying as a result of Saturday night's games.

But the majority of the 7,300-plus fans at Sheffield Arena on Saturday night cared little about matters elsewhere, their interest saved only for the status of their own team, after what has proved a difficult campaign.

The damage was done by the Steelers in the first period against a Lightning team barely able to put out three lines, leaving spectators to wonder what Tim Wllace's side might have been able to achieve in this only their second Elite League campaign, with just a few more resources.

Rob Dowd got the ball rolling when intercepting a pass out from behind the Lightning net, leaving him a clear-cut chance to fire past Patrick Killeen at 10.26. Just over three minutes later, Eric Neiley teed up Josh McFadden who fired over Killeen's left shoulder and into the roof of the net to make it 2-0.

That lead increased again just under four minutes later when Dowd grabbed his second after poking home a rebound from close in after McFadden's drive to the net had initially been thwarted by Killeen.

Brandon Whistle celebrates his first-ever goal for Sheffield Steelers. Picture: JPI Media

If it wasn't already, it was effectively game over 79 seconds later when Brandon Whistle, seeing plenty of ice time on the fourth line with Jonas Westerling and Kieran Brown, scoreed his first goal for the Steelers when being in the right place at the right time to poke home another rebound from in front, this time after Jonas Westerling's effort had been saved by the ;eft pad of Killeen.

There was a short until the Steelers next got on the board, captain Jonathan Phillips picking up a loose puck before firing home at the second attempt at 27.32.

As the Steelers eased off, the Lightning began to show more offensive threat, but had to wait some time for their rewards, a consolation goal coming at 44.35 through Georgs Golovkovs skilful redirect from in front of the net at 44.35.

Ben O'Connor, who made a speedy recovery from an ankle injury sustained in last week's win over Cardiff to start the game, was withdrawn early in order to rest himself ahead of Sunday's trip to Belfast Giants.